Searching for the best DSLR camera for beginners? Whether you’re switching from a smartphone or upgrading from a compact, this buying guide should help you find the perfect DSLR to suit your budget and requirements.
While smartphones and mirrorless cameras are now more powerful than ever, DSLR – or digital single-lens reflex – cameras still offer better shooting performance than mobiles, as well as superior handling and battery life compared to the majority of mirrorless models. And if you’re not a fan of electronic viewfinders, only a DSLR can give you a true optical viewfinder – one that uses a mirror to physically reflect light into your eye.
What separates basic DSLR variants from more advanced models, such as the Canon EOS 1DX Mark III? Entry-level DSLR cameras like the Canon 90D still offer plenty of flexibility and features for novice photographers, though they’re likely to pack fewer advanced modes and custom control settings.
Ready to start shopping? Canon and Nikon are still the biggest names, offering a broad choice of beginner DSLR models – and a massive range of lenses to match. That said, our list also covers a selection of excellent entry-level cameras from other brands.
It’s also worth considering the older options on the list below. As manufacturers focus more on the mirrorless market, there are fewer new DSLR models hitting the shelves. This works in favor of first-time buyers, as a whole range of older but still very capable DSLR cameras remain available at lower and lower prices.
Best Dslr Camera For Beginners at a glance:
- Nikon D3500
- Canon EOS Rebel T7i / EOS 800D
- Nikon D5600
- Canon 90D
- Canon EOS Rebel T7/ 2000D / EOS 1500D
- Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / EOS 250D / EOS 200D Mark II
- Pentax K-70
The Best DSLRs for beginners in 2020:
1. Nikon D3500
Not the flashiest camera here, but we reckon it’s the best right now
Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Nikon DX | Screen: 3-inch, 921,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: BeginnerUS$496.95VIEW AT AMAZONLOW STOCKUS$496.95View at AmazonUS$584.36View at AmazonSee all prices (4 found)Excellent image qualityEasy to useNo touchscreen controlBluetooth but no Wi-Fi
Nikon may not have announced any new entry-level DSLRs for a while, but the D3500 remains an excellent option for those new to photography. It picks up from where the D3400 left off, but with a handful of extra perks. Unlike power-hungry mirrorless models, the major advantage of this camera is battery life. You can keep going for 1,550 images between charges, which is way ahead of most other DSLRs, while the 24MP sensor delivers excellent image quality. Nikon has also revised the body and control layout, not only to make it nicer to handle but easier to use too, while the Guide Mode takes the first-time user’s hand and walks them through all the key features in a way that makes everything easy to understand. We love it – and if you’re just getting started, we reckon you will too.
- Read our in-depth Nikon D3500 review
2. Canon EOS Rebel T7i / Canon EOS 800D
About to be superseded, but will continue to offer great value
Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Canon EF-S | Screen: 3-inch articulating touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 6fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner/enthusiast
US$569.98VIEW AT AMAZONUS$609.99View at AmazonUS$762.49View at AmazonSee all prices (8 found)Great touchscreenExcellent sensorPlastic finishNo 4K video
Canon’s EOS Rebel T7i (known as the EOS 800D outside the US) is on the cusp of being replaced: in fact, we’re just about to test its successor, the Rebel T8i / 850D.
Early impressions suggest the new model is more evolution than revolution, but the upgrades should make it an excellent entry-level choice – think 4K video, better low-light focusing and Live View focus points. It also gets Canon’s latest Digic 8 chip for 7fps burst shooting, improved metering and better noise-handling.
Does that make the 800D a write-off? Not at all. If you’re unlikely to shoot 4K footage or frequently focus using Live View, the older option remains a solid all-rounder for those who like the larger handling of a DSLR. Its excellent touchscreen is user-friendly, while the 24.2MP sensor still delivers impressive overall image quality.
Better yet, the price is only likely to fall further now that the 850D has arrived – making it even better value for first-time buyers.
3. Nikon D5600
Need a little more power? The D5600 could be what you’re after
Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Nikon DX | Screen: 3.2-inch articulating touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner/enthusiastUS$559VIEW AT AMAZONUS$569View at AmazonUS$599.95View at DellSee all prices (12 found)Excellent image qualityArticulating touchscreenSlow Live View focusingSnapBridge needs work
Here’s another model which is still holding its own against the rise of mirrorless. The D5600 is a step up from the D3000-series models, with a stronger set of specs to rival the likes of the Canon EOS Rebel T7i / EOS 800D (position 2). Key advantages over the D3400 and D3500 include a larger LCD screen, which not only flips out and swivels all the way around to face the front for vlogging, but also responds to touch, together with a more advanced autofocus system, Wi-Fi and a healthy range of additional control on the inside. Sure, you pay a little bit more for the privilege, but if you need a little more growing space it makes sense to go for the D5600 so that it stays with you for years to come.
- Read our in-depth Nikon D5600 review
4. Canon EOS 90D
A feature-packed all-rounder that offers lots of room to grow into
Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 32.5MP | Lens mount: EF/EF-S | Screen: 3-inch vars-angle touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 11fps | Max video resolution: 4K/30p | User level: Beginner/enthusiastUS$1,199VIEW AT AMAZONUS$1,318.99View at AmazonUS$1,449View at AmazonSee all prices (5 found)High-resolution sensor4K video at 30fpsNo image stabilizationNot the cheapest option for beginners
Canon’s 90D might be the last enthusiast-level DSLR the company ever makes – and if so, it’s going out with a bang. The versatile 90D packs a high-resolution sensor which, paired with Canon’s Digic 8 imaging engine, offers the enticing prospect of uncropped 4K video at 30fps. Color reproduction is superb and there’s plenty of detail in both stills and video, aided by a new 216-zone metering system – though noise can be an issue above ISO 8000. A deeper grip means the 90D is also really comfortable in the hand, while a joystick makes selecting from the Dual Pixel CMOS AF points a cinch. Battery life is a boon, too, with 1,500 shots possible on a single charge. It’s possibly a bit too much camera for an absolute beginner (both in price and features), but there’s no doubt it offers a lot of room to grow into. Either way, the 90D proves that DSLRs still have a place in the mirrorless world.
- Read our in-depth Canon EOS 90D review
5. Canon EOS Rebel T7 / Canon EOS 2000D
Pick up Canon’s no-frills entry-level DSLR at a bargain price
Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.1MP | Lens mount: Canon EF-S | Screen: 3-inch, 920,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 3fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: BeginnerUS$315VIEW AT AMAZONUS$319.99View at AmazonUS$348View at AmazonSee all prices (5 found)Easy to useLogically laid out controlsDated AF systemNo touchscreen
This is one of the cheapest DSLRs in Canon’s current line-up, which also makes it a very cost-effective way to get access to an endless assortment of lenses, flashguns and other accessories. Its low price tag means that it understandably lacks some of the fancy tricks of its bigger brothers – flip-out LCD, 4K video and so on – but there’s still a very good level of physical control on offer. And, most importantly, image quality from the 24MP sensor is sound. It’s designed very much with its target audience in mind, with a Feature Guide to help you understand everything, and battery life is also better than many mirrorless models at this price point – still a key advantage of DSLRs. Wi-Fi, NFC and Full HD video recording round off the specs, making it a well-rounded first-time option.
- Read our in-depth Canon EOS Rebel T7 / EOS 2000D review
6. Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / EOS 250D
The world’s smallest and lightest DSLR with a movable LCD
Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.1MP | Lens mount: Canon EF-S | Screen: 3-inch, 1,040,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: BeginnerUS$479VIEW AT AMAZONUS$549View at AmazonUS$599View at AmazonSee all prices (5 found)Nice JPEGs straight from the cameraCheapest DSLR with 4K video9-point AF system is datedHeavy rolling shutter in 4K
The EOS Rebel SL3, also known as the Canon EOS 250D, is the latest entry-level arrival to this list – indeed it’s one of only a handful of beginner models announced in recent years. Like its name suggests, it picks up from where the Rebel SL2 (EOS 200D) left off, adding a fresh processing engine and 4K video recording on top of a collection of smaller extras. There may be lots of competition from mirrorless right now, but if you like the traditional handling of a DSLR – including an optical viewfinder – the 250D is one of the most attractive models available right now.
7. Pentax K-70
Rugged and great value – an impressive alternative to the big two
Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Pentax K | Screen: 3-inch, 921,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 6fps | Max video resolution: Full HD | User level: BeginnerUS$546.95VIEW AT AMAZONUS$546.95View at AmazonUS$579.78View at AmazonSee all prices (7 found)Compact and ruggedAnti-shake tech Great valueFew autofocus pointsSlightly soft kit lens
Although a couple of years old now, the K-70 remains a good value option for anybody who is not overly bothered by the main two manufacturers . Even better if you have a stash of old Pentax lenses gathering dust in a basement from manual days. It has a very useful articulating screen, while the hybrid live view autofocus system makes it an actual practical alternative to using the viewfinder. Possibly our favourite thing about the K-70 is its tough credentials – something which is typically lacking for entry-level models. If you’re keen to take lots of pictures outdoors – such as landscapes – being able to rely on it not to be destroyed by inclement weather is a big bonus. One slight disappointment is the kit lens which is often bundled with the camera – while it offers a much longer focal length than most others here, it can be a little soft in places.
7. Canon EOS 80D
A classic never grows old
Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24MP | Lens mount: Canon EF-S | Screen: 3-inch, 1,040K dots | Continuous shooting speed: 7fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: BeginnerUS$824.99VIEW AT AMAZONUS$835.27View at AmazonUS$835.93View at AmazonSee all prices (45 found)Fast and reliable AF systemExcellent resultsNo 4K videoNo PC sync
Sitting on top of Canon’s entry-level DSLR pile, the EOS 80D is one of the older cameras from the camera maker, having been around since 2016. Despite that, it’s one of the more ‘advanced’ beginner cameras, thanks to its feature set and specs, including a 24.2MP sensor with a 45-point autofocus system that’s actually remarkably reliable. There’s a guided menu system that’s easy to navigate, and on-board Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to transfer images wirelessly if needed. The only downside is that the kit lens that comes with the shooter is a tad soft around the edges, and we’d recommend buying the body only and a better lens separately.
How to Buy a Digital Camera
1. Determine what you need
A mistake I see some digital camera buyers making is that they get sucked into buying cameras that are beyond what they really need. Some questions to ask yourself before you go shopping:
- What do you need the camera for?
- What type of photography will you be doing? (portraits, landscapes, macro, sports)
- What conditions will you be largely photographing in? (indoors, outdoors, low light, bright light)
- Will you largely stay in auto mode or do you want to learn the art of photography?
- What experience level do you have with cameras?
- What type of features are you looking for? (long zoom, image stabilization, large LCD display etc)
- How important is size and portability to you?
- What is your budget?
Ask yourself these questions before you go to buy a camera and you’ll be in a much better position to make a decision when you see what’s on offer. You’ll probably find the sales person asks you this question anyway – so to have thought about it before hand will help them help you get the right digital camera.https://da360a56a245c0803c5da779cd8113ff.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
2. Megapixels are NOT everything
One of the features that you’ll see used to sell digital cameras is how many megapixels a digital camera has.
When I first got into digital photography, a few years back, the megapixel rating of cameras was actually quite important as most cameras were at the lower end of today’s modern day range and even a 1 megapixel increase was significant.
These days, with most new cameras coming out with at least 5 megapixels, it isn’t so crucial. In fact at the upper end of the range it can actually be a disadvantage to have images that are so large that they take up enormous amounts of space on memory cards and computers.
One of the main questions to ask when it comes to megapixels is ‘Will you be printing shots’? If so – how large will you be going with them? If you’re only printing images at a normal size then anything over 4 or so megapixels will be fine. If you’re going to start blowing your images up you might want to pay the extra money for something at the upper end of what’s on offer today.
3. Keep in mind the ‘extras’
Keep in mind as you look at cameras that the price quoted may not be the final outlay that you need to make as there are a variety of other extras that you might want (or need) to fork out for including:
- Camera Case
- Memory Cards
- Spare Batteries/Recharger
- Lenses (if you are getting a DSLR)
- Filters (and other lens attachments)
- External Flashes
Some retailers will bundle such extras with cameras or will at least give a discount when buying more than one item at once. Keep in mind though that what they offer in bundles might not meet you needs. For example it’s common to get a 16 or 32 megabyte memory card with cameras – however these days you’ll probably want something at least of 500 megabytes (if not a gigabyte or two).
4. Do you already own any potentially compatible gear?
Talking of extra gear – one way to save yourself some cash is if you have accessories from previous digital cameras that are compatible with your new one.
For example memory cards, batteries, lenses (remember that many film camera lenses are actually compatible with digital SLRs from the same manufacturers), flashes, filters etc.
5. DSLR or Point and Shoot?
While digital SLRs are getting more affordable they are not for everyone. Keep in mind that they are usually bigger, heavier, harder to keep clean (if you’re changing lenses) and can be more complicated to operate than point and shoot. Of course there are some upsides also.
If you’re trying to make a decision between a point and shoot and DSLR you might want to read my previous posts titled Should you buy a DSLR or a Point and Shoot Digital Camera? and it’s companion piece How to Choose a DSLR.
6. Optical Zooms are King
Not all ‘zooms’ are created equal.
When you’re looking at different models of digital cameras you’ll often hear their zooms talked about in two ways. Firstly there’s the ‘optical zoom’ and then there’s the ‘digital zoom’.
I would highly recommend that you only take into consideration the ‘optical zoom’ when making a decision about which camera to buy. Digital zooms simply enlarge the pixels in your shot which does make your subject look bigger, but it also makes it look more pixelated and your picture ‘noisier’ (like when you go up close to your TV).
If you’re looking for a zoom lens make sure it’s an optical zoom (most modern cameras have them of at least 3x in length – ie they’ll make your subject three times as big – with an increasing array of ‘super zooms’ coming onto the market at up to 12x Optical Zoom).
7. Read reviews
Before buying a digital camera take the time to do a little research. Don’t JUST rely upon the advice of the helpful sales person (who may or may not know anything about cameras and who may or may not have sales incentives for the camera they are recommending).
Read some reviews in digital camera magazines or online to help you narrow down the field. There are some great websites around that give expert and user reviews on virtually every camera on the market – use this wonderful and free resource.
A little self promotion here – one such site is my Digital Photography Blog which is a site that collates the reviews of many sites from around the web. To use it best enter the camera’s model name that you’re looking for a review on in the search feature in the top right side bar. It’ll give you a link to a central page that has information on the camera as well as links to any reviews published online on that camera from around the web.
8. Hands On Experience
Once you’ve narrowed down your search to a handful of cameras head into your local digital camera shop and ask to see and play with them. There’s nothing like having the camera in your hands to work out whether it suits your needs.
When I shop for a camera I generally use the web to find reviews, then I head into a street in my city with 4 camera shops side by side and I go from shop to shop asking for recommendations and seeing the cameras live in the flash. In doing this I generally find the same camera or two are recommended in most shops and I get to see them demonstrated by different people (this gives a more well rounded demo). I also get to play with it and get a feel for which one I could see myself using.https://da360a56a245c0803c5da779cd8113ff.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
After you’ve selected the right digital camera for you it’s time to find the best price.
Once again, I generally start online (on a site like our store) and do some searches to find the most competitive prices on the models I’m interested in. With these in hand I’m in a good position to be able to negotiate in person with local stores and/or with online stores. I generally find that retail stores will negotiate on price and will often throw in freebies. Online stores are more difficult – most bigger ones don’t give you the ability to negotiate but smaller ones often will if you email them.
Don’t forget to ask for free or discounted bonuses including camera cases, memory cards, extra batteries, filters, free prints, cases etc. I even know of a couple of stores that offer camera lessons that you can ask to be included. Some stores will also consider giving you a trade in on older gear.
I generally do negotiating from home on the phone and only go into a store to pick up the camera after a price is agreed upon.